As the saying goes, no one ever tries to make a bad movie, but creating modern Studio System films is an incredibly complex challenge filled with big, powerful personalities. In the mid 90s, young visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro set out to film an elevated, B-movie creature feature. When the director's vision didn't match the producer's, multiple second unit directors were brought in to add a quicker pace and more scares. It was released in 1997, and currently holds a 57 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Thanks to the creative and commercial success of his later work, including 'Pans Labyrinth' and 'Hellboy II' (both terrific Blu-rays, by the way), del Toro is now one of Hollywood's hottest directors. When Disney sold off the Miramax label, he was given the chance to re-cut 'Mimic', and return it to a version of the story that more closely represents his original vision (many elements, such as the original ending, were never filmed). To paraphrase del Toro's own words, this means a slower pace to build real suspense, and removing all the quick cuts and false scares added by the producers and second unit directors.
I really enjoy creature features. 'Mimic: The Director's Cut' is a film that relishes the beauty of its slimy, dark underground settings. The film opens after a mysterious disease, spread via the cockroach, has killed thousands of New York City children. In order to stop the virus, the CDC's Dr. Peter Mann (Jeremy Northman) teams with Dr. Susan Tyler (Mira Sorvino) to genetically engineer an insect whose secretions kill off the cockroaches. It works brilliantly, and three years later, we jump back into the lives of Susan and Peter, who are now married and trying to conceive a child. But, something terrible has been brewing in the depths of the New York sewers and subways. People are disappearing, taken by a mysterious figure in a long overcoat. And, as Susan will discover, it seems her insects, which were designed to die within six months, may still be alive, and multiplying at a horrifying rate.
'Mimic: The Director's Cut' is a beautiful, thematic, and creepy film. Del Toro expertly creates sequences of spine-chilling terror, built out of his signature set design, creature effects, camera work, and quality performances from Sorvino, Mann, F. Murray Abraham, Josh Brolin, and Charles Dutton. Having never seen the original cut, I was immediately sucked into the world, though the film's first half is a little repetitive. I enjoyed the Frankenstein allegory (the filmmaker's favorite story) and the way the themes are laid onto every character, but sometimes the little boy character seemed out of place. The film's second half is more contained, and much more thrilling. I did have some questions about the climax's logic, but again, after learning more about the original vision and the challenges of this film's production, these minor flaws are understandable. The creatures themselves are a combination of practical effects and about 75 computer enhanced shots. For the most part, they all look terrific, though a few of the CGI shots stick out. As with David Fincher's 'Se7en', 'Mimic' feels very much like a 90s film, not only in terms of its look, but also in how it aligns with that decade's thrillers. At the same time, neither film is dated; instead they feel like period pieces (on his commentary del Toro speaks about how he was originally designing his film to look, but had to make changes due to similarities after 'Se7en' hit theaters; the one homage he did keep was the title sequence).
'Mimic: The Director's Cut' is a very good genre film, though not a great one. Knowing what I know now, I'm left to wonder what del Toro would have made without interference, but this new cut is quite successful. Akin to the way people describe the lesser Pixar films, an average Guillermo del Toro film is better than most.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stat
Lionsgate, in charge of the Miramax catalog, brings 'Mimic: The Director's Cut' to Blu-ray with a two discs (one BD50, and one Digital Copy disc) housed together in a blue eco-case. The original street date is September 27, 2011, but Best Buy has been selling copies since September 4. Popping this Region A locked Blu-ray Disc into the player brings up individually skippable trailers, including 'The Scream Trilogy', 'Hostage', 'The Presence', an ad for the EPIX channel, 'Pyschoville', and Break.com.
'Mimic: The Director's Cut' debuts on Blu-ray with a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encoding, framed in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While the film looks really good for its age, it ultimately suffers from its original source material as well as a few compression flaws. In terms of what's working – and there's a lot to like here – you won't find any terrible edge enhancement or DNR. Also, while there may be one or two miniscule scratches, the film's negative is super-clean (much more so than 'The Others'). No dirt or debris to be found. Skin tones aren't always naturalistic, but that's mainly due to the cyan-cloaked underground environments and amber light sources. Generally, though, the picture really sparkles, with lots of fine detail and resolution, but never attains that full near-3D look due to the flatness inherent in 90s film stock. And that's okay, really.
Where the film suffers the most is in terms of "noise." While the film's grain structure is intact and filmic, there are a number of darkly-lit scenes where noise levels spike (some night scenes, mainly the exteriors in the film's dénouement, display how good the film could have looked in dark moments). There is minimal banding overall, but when it shows up, it's pretty darn ugly. I noted two hanous instances in particular: 1) in a Zippo lighter's flame (1h, 28 mins), and 2) in a pivotal slow motion sequence where the creature is fully revealed (this particular visual effect is, sadly, one of the film's least realistic, and noisiest shots) to Sorvino's character.
At the end of the day, 'Mimic: The Director's Cut' won't win any restoration awards, but it's still an above average video presentation for a movie that could have looked a lot worse. For an example of what I mean, check out the 'Reclaiming Mimic' featurette, which features HD footage from the film with overly crushed blacks and an oddly warm color pallete. This Blu-ray presentation is, most likely, the best the film has ever looked at home.
If I'm not mistaken, 'Mimic: The Director's Cut' is del Toro's third Blu-ray with a 7.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack (the other two are listed above), and it's near reference. I've been waiting to hear this soundtrack since I interviewed Tim Hoogenakker over at POP Sound last year. At the time, Tim was unable to confirm rumors he was remixing 'Mimic', but I had the impression this new mix was going to be powerful stuff. Today, he said he's super proud of this mix, and I can see why.
While 'Mimic' was created in the modern surround sound era, late '90s movies rarely sound this aggressive on home video. Though it seems to be constrained a bit by its original elements (the track's dynamic range isn't as wide as a modern track -- mids and highs seem a little compact), I was really blown away. Dialog is perfect, despite the competing activity from music and sound effects elements. If you have a 7.1 system, this track really shows off precise panning effects, going forwards and backwards, and side to side, and every which way. Ambiance is terrific as well; you'll start thinking there are actual creepy-crawling bugs in your living room or dedicated home cinema spaces. LFE is supportive, but can be a little underwhelming for those who like thundering bass.
While I haven't heard the original 5.1 mix, so I can't say exactly how much more discrete activity is taking place in this all new mix, catalog titles (and even some modern mixes) rarely sound this good. Given the film's sub $10 price point on places like Amazon, audio fans might consider picking up the 'Mimic: The Director's Cut' Blu-ray just for this track. It's not perfect, but it's so, so close.
'Mimic' originally hit DVD in 2001 with a barebones edition that only included the film's trailer. Here in the director's cut Blu-ray ten years later, we get a host of special features that are either brand new, or what appear to be SD features created around the time of the film's original release, but never included on a DVD (unless I'm mistaken).
'Mimic' is a fun, scary B-movie made by one of the most creative filmmakers working in Hollywood today. In del Toro's own words, 'Mimic' can never be returned to his ultimate vision, but this director's cut represents the best of what was shot ("The movie that could be rescued."). Fans of del Toro and/or 'Mimic' will enjoy the flawed, but damage-free video presentation, and surround sound aficionados might well want to pick up this Blu-ray for its near reference 7.1 audio. If you're already a fan, pick this up at a comfortable price point (the soundtrack and del Toro commentary are worth the price of admission all by themselves). For the rest of you, there's a lot of great stuff to learn here in seeing a movie restored in this way. It's not a great film, but it's worth a look.